How to Question Older Adults About Signs of Dementia

The risk of developing abnormal cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia increases when we reach an advanced age (near 60+). As we get older, it is in our best interests to be as aware as possible about potential psychological decline. This is especially true when it comes to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia since they can progress intensely and rapidly.

It would be ideal for all order people to seek regular cognitive evaluations from medical professionals as soon as they reach a high-risk age. Unfortunately, some of them do not or cannot monitor their psychological health in any form. There are many reasons that this can occur, like a lack of information, access, or interest. In these cases, it is often necessary for the questioning to be initiated by loved ones and others who are around them the most. Alas, this task is often easier said than done.

Individual Challenges

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It can be very difficult to ask an older person about memory problems or other signs of a developing mental impairment. There may be a high risk of insulting, embarrassing, and/or angering them by going about it the wrong way. There is no single perfect way to approach the topic. Every person is different, and so each will likely respond best to a line of questioning that is specifically tailored to their individual personality and circumstances. Some potential challenges to consider are:

  • Their personal sense of pride
  • Hearing impairments
  • Language barriers (do they understand what you are asking)
  • Trust issues
  • A general resistance to medical questioning
  • Existing psychological conditions

Asking the Right Questions

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Another important consideration when asking older people about possible signs of dementia is the presence of normal age-related cognitive decline. Most people experience some deterioration in certain mental abilities as they get older. Memory is commonly affected, but not to the point that it impairs our daily functioning. Accordingly, it is not enough to simply ask older people memory-testing questions. We need to focus on uncovering signs of abnormal psychological decline, such as:

  • Changes in personality/demeanor
  • Periods of confusion
  • Forgetting where they live
  • Forgetting who they are

Self-administered tools for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, like the BrainTest® app, are highly recommended because they help avoid many of the communication problems listed above. If this is not a realistic option then it is necessary for the person doing the questioning to pay close attention to the way that they communicate. In addition to the considerations discussed above, some general tips are to:

  • Speak clearly
  • Maintain an adequate volume
  • Be specific (ex: “Do you forget where you live?” Instead of, “do you ever forget anything?”)
  • Ask early and often if possible (do not wait for signs to become obvious)

The Next Step

If an older person displays even the slightest signs of a developing cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia then they should be encouraged immediately to seek a professional evaluation. It takes medical training to be able to confirm a diagnosis. Research shows that even the most attentive family members (and similar non-professionals) are generally not effective at detecting these conditions on their own, so it is critical to get a medical opinion at the first opportunity.

Steven Pace writes extensively in the fields of neuroscience, mental health, and spirituality. He is an experienced academic writer and researcher from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, having obtained his BSc. (Psychology Major) from Cape Breton University in 2010. Steven takes pride in being able to assist others in navigating topics concerning the human mind.

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